Chapter 10 Who are they?

Chapter 10

Despite everything, Nitya had made up her mind to meet Sajid today. She deserved answers for what he did to Naman. The very thought was causing her blood to boil and she requested the old man in Hindi.

“Will you take me there? I… I have to meet someone.”

The old man seemed to ponder for a while. She added. “I will pay… um… extra money”

The man nodded and after about 20 minutes of the ride from a well-laid road to a muddy stone laid one, they reached a secluded area. It was almost 6 PM and the moisture-pregnant clouds were hovering above her, plunging the place to a dark and gloomy dome. It didn’t help… it was an eerie feel. The place seemed like a no man’s land. There were two hillocks… and a narrow pathway winding inside. She couldn’t see where, though.

“Beta… you have to walk from here. This place belongs to… those people…” the old man hesitated.

“You mean… Muslims?” but she had seen them everywhere. So, what was about this place?

Nahi beta… not ordinary ones. They … I mean, they are not from here. They are the refugees…”

“You mean, Bangladesh?” she wasn’t much in up-to-date with the daily news but had heard about the trickling refugees across the border on the East.

“na… na… Beta… the other border… is taraf…”

“Pak… Pakistan…?” She shuddered. “…but how are they here then?”

“Look Beta, They are legitimate on paper… not many people. Bahut saal ho gaya. But we know they are no good. We have tried to complain to authorities but there is no evidence. Besides they contribute a lot to the local politicians. Different Visa to stay here. I don’t know the details. But they have been here since 2012. They haven’t harmed anyone… but we suspect they… I mean… women… you know… so be careful.”

Nitya was still trying to digest this absurd possibility. How can such a tiny township even exist in the corner of this place? Virar was huge and flooded with people then how come these people managed to ensnare a property like this. But she looked around as she alighted the auto. There was nothing in the name of infrastructure here. No trees, no markets… nothing. She shook her head still trying to wrap her mind around this all. A chill breeze shivered her to the core. It felt like she had come to an alien world. Was she dreaming?

Despite her bravado, Nitya was questioning her decision to come here…

Should she go back? No… not after all the trouble she took to get here.

Beta bahut time lagega kya? Nahi tho wapas jaane ke liye rukta hu…(If you aren’t taking long I shall wait for you to go back)” the man offered and Nitya was touched. She had never thought of that.

She nodded and requested him to wait for her promising to pay him the waiting charges.

She scurried towards the winding pathway. Within a minute it emerged into a new world… with sparse population. The entire place looked like a deserted island. There were little children playing around and didn’t bother to give her a second glance. There were a couple of what appeared to be hardware and general stores and the few men in there, stared at her as she walked past. Their looks pierced her bare hands and she had to hug herself. All scarce houses or buildings around looked identical, and she decided to give herself just a few minutes more before heading back.

She couldn’t see a single woman outside.

She called out to a little kid and asked him where was Mansood Minar. The little boy who was barely 8 smiled and pointed towards a structure right behind where she stood.

The old minar stood tall. It seemed a lot older than 12 years… so must have existed before these people came in. It was partially obscured by mist and dirt and grime covered the weathered stones. As she approached the structure, the rainy breeze, rustled through the structure creating eerie whispers. Dim lights flickered somewhere inside and the sliver of shadows moving around hinted at the presence of humans in the place.

As Nitya placed one trembling foot before another, she heard a commotion and stilled. Every one of the minuscule population she had witnessed minutes ago, ran helter-skelter and a stream of vehicles came to a halt in front the minar. She quickly hid herself in the shadow of a large pillar hoping it wouldn’t give away… it’s structure or her presence. Her heart galloped attempting to spring out of her chest confines. She turned around, her back to the pillar and her eyes fell on a dilapidated structure… a few metres away. It was a hospital from the looks of it and its lone presence loomed, its evenly placed broken windows glowed faintly, casting its soft lights on the lawn outside… a lawn that probably was once green but was now filled with wild weeds.

Was this indeed Mumbai? What was cooking up here? Where the hell was Sajid? A movement at the corner of the hospital building drew her fearful eyes. A board dangled on its last legs precariously, ready to fall at a huge gust of wind. Her eyes widened as she read the name on it… the English version below the Urdu one…

Mohammad Ali Jinnah Trust Hospital… Oh goodness… M A J trust… that’s it. Sajid hadn’t lied after all. Her searching eyes with her pacing heart further landed on a neighbouring house… it wasn’t really a house though. Just a single-storeyed structure. Beads of sweat adorned her forehead, her palms paradoxically chilled like her core as she read another flail board, on the structure. But the name was only in Urdu… With trembling hands, she clicked a picture. She had to figure it out later.

Nitya didn’t want to wait a moment longer in this place that reeked of something untoward. Something that she couldn’t put a finger to. As she was about to turn around, she heard screams… some guy screaming and halted in her tracks. It wasn’t very loud because it came from the direction of the other structure near the hospital building. The architecture was an absolute cul-de-sac and she couldn’t see the other end of the minar which probably had a back entrance to that structure. She had almost forgotten why she was hiding there in the first place. She peeped outside towards the direction of the vehicles she had seen earlier. The vehicles were still there with a couple of guards standing in vigilance next to them. It was getting darker now and the light drizzle had given rise to the petrichor redolence that engulfed her… she loved the earthy fragrance and it instantly calmed her.

She couldn’t go back yet till the guards were there. But it looked like they would go away soon. She tip-toed her way to the structure next to the hospital… from where the screams had ceased…

The structure wasn’t well looked after and there were cracks all over the walls. The windows were all shut completely. She walked towards a shed attached to the side wall, hoping she could hide there as she explored. Her heart pounded… she was brave but right now her brevity ditched her. She waited for her breathing to settle and slowly made her way out of the shed to the nearest window. Though she was very tall, she couldn’t reach it. Looking around she found an empty discarded tin… like the ones found in grocery stores. She placed it strategically beneath the window and climbed up, precariously balancing herself… her fitness helped to do so.

She gently pried the window and the door nudged away a tiny bit. Fortunately, it didn’t make noise or even if it did, there was loud talking going on inside, that camouflaged the noise. It was a dimly lit space and she saw a group of men standing in a circle. Their outfits didn’t look any different from the men around but their dialect was different for sure. She turned her head and stuck her ear in the tiny crevice made by the partially opened window, all the time struggling to keep her footing on the tin that shook all the time.

“How much more time do you need…? I am running out of patience…” A deep baritone resonated along the room, it’s eerie vibrations hitting Nitya’s ears as she strained to understand what was going on.

“Janab… it isn’t that easy. The girl is tenacious… her claws run deep…” Another deep voice spoke.

Then cut off the claws, damn it… can’t you manage one girl?” The earlier man bellowed and Nitya shivered.

“But Janab… we have been trying… in fact Ashfaq has been at it for 5 years now…” the other man tried to explain.

SLAP….

It definitely was a slap and Nitya almost recoiled in fear as if she had been hit.

The earlier man lashed out. “How dare you talk back. Do you know how much money we have spent so far on you idiots? You remember what Kadir had done, don’t you? If you don’t compensate for his misdeeds then Allah won’t forgive you but before that I wont spare you… I can’t prevent the frequent run-ins with this government now… We are being watched with Hawk eyes and the coffers are drying….Medical tourism no longer can be a cover for us. It won’t be long before the greedy politicians who have been covering for us raise their ugly heads and serve ours on a platter to the Indian Army… Do you want that?”

“I am sorry, Janab… just give us a little more time. We are almost there. If nothing we will abduct the boy… and ….”

“DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. I GIVE YOU A WEEK… AFTER WHICH I SHALL KILL YOU BOTH.”

Nitya shivered in the evening breeze and places a hand on her mouth to prevent the gasping sound that escaped her lips.

“Ja… Janab please spare my son… he has only been working towards the goal… he almost got caught today….” the other man fumbled.

“Look, your mistake is that you are related to that Kadir who betrayed us and our mission for which we suffered for more than 15 years. Your son too must bear the fruits of your past… Our upcoming mission this December must take place. Otherwise, the high command will have our hides and this is the last chance for us to redeem ourselves after what happened 15 years ago….” The first man’s tone had slightly softened.

“I promise Ashfaq will try harder… the girl is too rigid… we will go after the boy. He is a dimwit I believe but Asfaq will tame him soon.” The other man continued.

There was a momentary silence as she heard shuffling and Nitya turned her head to peep in again. The tall man walked with a limp and he looked familiar… rather the stance and built appeared as if she had seen him somewhere before. But where? What was going on?

The large man moved a little even though she tried racking her brains… She was sure she had seen him somewhere.

There were a few other men holding sticks who moved and the big man held someone seated, by the hair and pulled back his head even as he grunted in pain.

“This is my last warning, Ashfaq. Get that thing to us by hook or crook… kill the boy for all I care but the crime shouldn’t lead the authorities to us… do you understand?”

The man further moved away towards another man waiting with a towel, and wiped his hands clean. Nitya strained her neck and went on her toes to see clearly as the men with sticks started to clear the room and the big man took out his mobile phone. Scrolling through the phone he indicated for the switches to be turned on.

The second man obliged and soon the room was flooded with bright light. Nitya squinted and saw, the walls in front of her line of vision, were lined with different electronic equipment, blinking away unconcerned.

But what she saw next shook her to the core…

Tied to a wooden chair, right under the harsh glare centre light was Sajid whose body was battered and bruised.

 

©priyanayakgole

(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

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